Thoughts in a Cathedral
By C. L. JACQUES FROM my seat at the back of the chancel I could see straight down to the high altar; on each side stalls were filled with the parish clergy of a whole diocese. The arches were pale with reflected light; the windows shone with subdued hues, and the great gold plate and high gold candlesticks flashed as the richly-coloured robes of the officiating bishops moved across the front of the altar. The organ filled my ears with deep-toned music, and the voices of the choir took wing and soared above the heavy singing of the rows ofmassed clergy. For a few minutes a solemn silence followed, while a visiting bishop went his stately way to the high pulpit. His voice failed to hold my attention, because my senses were still too keenly aware of the beauty of the music, the colour and the noble architecture. My mind wandered, and followed my eyes medita- tively as they took in again the wonder of this scene, closely observed for the first time. The contrast with our own small country church was startling; no music there but our own hearty and often tuneless singing (in the service) to a. single manual organ, played devotedly, though inaccurately, by an old man stiffened with rheumatism. No colour there except the east window and the brass on the altar above the frontal.
Suddenly my eyes came to rest on the faces of the clergy listening to the carefully enunciated words of the sermon, and I heard these words slowly falling, "• . . and we look to the ministers of Christ's church to recall the lost sheep of Israel, to reinspire this country of ours with the great traditions of the Christian life; to go out and about making known to all that the Gospel alone has any true meaning for men; to rededicate themselves to...."
With a shock like a pain I was aware of the tired lined faces of the men inthe stalls. Only a few were actually upturned to the speaker. Some of the listeners looked straight in front rather blankly; some leaned their heads on their hands in thoughtful attitude; some actually had their eyes shut; the whole effect was one of weary inability to respond to the preacher's words. What were they thinking, these vicars and rectors called together from all the towns and villages of that diocese ? I do not know, and I could not ask. But as that noble service proceeded with dignity and reverence my mind remained with these men who have been called so often by their bishop and archbishops to be the " spiritual commandos of the Church in our land." I knew what would happen when they faded with dignity and composure from the chancel, and left the cathedral. Back they would go, to their loneliness, their superhuman task, their drudgery, their empty churches; and back to the grumbling and quarrelling of parishioners, the endless soul-destroying round of money-raising " efforts." the grinding worry about making ends meet, dilapidations and repairs; but above all the lonely grim fight to hold on to their belief, to keep their churches going, to keep faith with their ordination vows, to hold down the blinding disillusionment and baffling lack of response to preaching and visiting and work.
These clergymen are truly holding the bastions of Christi- anity against all the forces of Communism and atheism in this country today. In this land there is no section of men of greater integrity, who, by their example alone, shame the people they work amongst by their honesty, kindliness and steadfast pur- pose in a society riddled with greed, lust and self-indulgence. Gone are the days when they held privileged positions in their communities. They should command today respect and esteem, even though they seem able to achieve so little.
How seldom do we hear praise of clergy ! How often are they the target of criticism for all, from bishop to church- cleaner, from the big daily newspaper to the local weekly I The incumbent is the scapegoat for all. Let him trip ever so little, and the hounds of the Press are on him. Let him fail to send his quota, and the bishop will reprove him. Dare I say that too many of those in ecclesiastical high places do not know, or have forgotten, the need 'of the parish clergy for spiritual help, for praise and for true friendship ? How easy it is for those who work great missions, who travel the country as organisers, who sit in councils and on committees and hold conference, who travel and refresh their minds—how easy to forget the spiritual weariness which falls more and more heavily on the men who see the same faces daily and preach to the same few people weekly, who walk the same round of streets or cottages all the year and face the same criticisms and prac- tical difficulties all their lives. Dull, they are called, lacking initiative and inspiration. I haVe heard a whole. section of country clergy called by a cathedral city critic " the dead end \of the diocese, you know; we've practically written them off." It was true; that part of the diocese was seldom, if ever, visited by anyone who could give those lonely bewildered and frus- trated clergy the love and help and encouragement they so desperately needed. Surely their need was the greatest of all, those tired commandos of the Church of God.
For there the hard real work of the Church is done; there the clergyman faces the task of living in the modern world. He lives with all the forces of it battering against him. He is not cushioned against the world, or the results of his work, or his own faiths or shortcomings; he is in the thick of the battle, fighting for his spiritual life and that of his church, with his back to the wall, hard-pressed, unobservcd, often desperately short of money and of good food, good clothes or a real holi- daf or decent comfort. The future of the Church of England depends on these men at their outposts, and 'surely God only knows the sadness in their hearts. We know that there are the few who cannot endure, and we know also that not many men are coming to take their places. The lovely notes of the Gloria rose from the choir; the majestic blessing was delivered from the altar steps; the digni- fied procession left the chancel. Slowly the choir-stalls emptied, and I was left alone with the organ-music fading away. The lights were switched off, the gold plate removed, candles snuffed out; sightseers tiptoed hesitatingly up the nave. I rose and left also, and, as I passed through the west door out into the cold wintry day, I saw the last groups of clergy leaving, and a quiet voice was heard saying, ' No, thank you, I must go. It will take me nearly four hours to get home by bus. No, thank you, I have some sandwiches."